Opinion: how COVID-19 ended the Information Era and ushered in the Age of Insight

By Antonio Neri

Thursday July 30, 2020

Image: REUTERS/Aly Song

COVID-19 introduced challenges that we as a society were not ready to address. We are converting to a digital-first world overnight. Becoming fully connected. Ensuring all of our personal data is protected. And taking steps to not leave anyone behind in this new digital economy.

Conversations with customers, team members, community partners and fellow leaders around the globe have given me first-hand insight into the complex and widespread effects of the pandemic. In spite of the challenges, I have been incredibly inspired by the innovative partnerships, technical advancements, and humanitarian responses I have seen across industries, organisations, and geographies.

Part of my visibility into these compelling examples of action is through my role leading the World Economic Forum’s CEO Champions group on Accelerating Digital Transformation in a post-COVID-19 world. Together, this incredible cross-industry group of CEOs and experts are developing new frameworks and toolkits to enable large and small organisations alike to transform their businesses, empower new stakeholders, change their business models, and take active roles in driving social change as we emerge from this crisis. Today, we published a report, Digital Transformation: Powering the Great Resetthat I believe is a valuable resource as we look ahead. It provides guidance, best practices and examples of how to put people and the planet at the core of digital transformation strategies.

From a technology standpoint, the future that everyone talked about before the pandemic is now here, ahead of schedule. We expected significant advancements in digitising our world, in adopting new business models, and in generating outcomes for students, patients, researchers, and community members like never before. Today, that is no longer a prediction; it is reality.

The COVID-19 crisis was the catalyst for rapid change, and it presents the opportunity for us to collectively shift priorities, refocus on what matters, and accelerate to a brighter future.

As we recover, it’s important to focus on the future. We need to look beyond the goal of becoming digitally powered and instead contemplate how we will be best positioned to deliver outcomes for our stakeholders. The Great Reset challenges us to radically rethink how we make decisions and who benefits from the outcomes – and how to develop and apply technology in new and meaningful ways for the benefit of all.

Venture capitalist Mary Meeker recently published a report titled Our New World 2020, which explores the impact of COVID-19. Meeker made a striking observation in describing the state of the world at the height of the pandemic. She said: “We are awash in data, but lacking connectivity and insight.”

Even in the early days of the pandemic, officials around the globe shared spreadsheets to track utilisation and hospital capacity. We had enormous amounts of data we couldn’t analyse. And what we did analyse often yielded conflicting answers. Despite decades of investment in technology, there remained hundreds of dark, unconnected pools of data. Researchers and healthcare providers were overwhelmed by the volume of the data, unable to create insight and action from oceans of information.

We cannot repeat this failure. I believe we are nearing the end of the Information Era, which focused on generating and collecting massive amounts of data that couldn’t be brought together to deliver timely insights and inform actions to change our future.

Today, we are entering the Age of Insight – a new era that is defined by insights and discoveries that benefit all and that elevate the greater well-being of every human on this planet.

Our challenge as leaders is to harness the benefits of the Age of Insight to support the Great Reset, which will be propelled by more than digital technologies; it is a Great Reset fueled by insight and designed to encourage resiliency, safety, inclusiveness, and sustainability.

How do we ensure digital transformations are sustainable, inclusive, and trustworthy? Part of the responsibility lies with the technology industry; we must build security and sustainability into solutions from the design phase. But beyond the technology tools, the broader digital transformation strategies adopted by governments, businesses, and other organisations play a critical role. Those strategies should systematically embed purpose into their design to minimise the potentially harmful impacts of technology and to lessen the threat of digital equity gaps.

The Age of Insight requires new principles and priorities for digital transformation. And to make the next wave of progress a reality, we must work together. Many of the most effective approaches to addressing the pandemic have emerged from novel collaborations — between individual companies and between companies and governments. Ventilator production, diagnostic testing, and vaccine research have all emerged from the private sector responding to public demand, executed in coordination with government agencies. We must collaborate boldly to drive innovation and to ensure that digital progress doesn’t cause greater inequality.

We all have a responsibility to play a larger role in society and leverage technology to improve people’s wellbeing. Technology is catapulting society into a digital-first world, and we must ensure the protection of environmental sustainability, human rights, and personal freedoms such a data privacy. Everyone deserves to live freely and with equal access to digital services. We have to do better as a society and as leaders. Together, we can make a difference and be a force for good.

Antonio Neri is president and chief executive officer 0f Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

This article is curated from the World Economic Forum.

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